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Jets have chance to recapture magic memory in Chicago

CHICAGO — It was as surreal a moment as there’s ever been around the New York Jets — and if you are even remotely familiar with, shall we say, the Jets’ colorful history, that is saying something.

This was the last time the Jets visited Soldier Field, on the day after Christmas, 2010. Rex Ryan was in an uncharacteristically somber mood. His team had played an almost perfect first half, but early in the second a bizarre decision by the coach — snapping the ball to Mark Sanchez, the up-back in a punt formation — had backfired horribly. Seconds later Jay Cutler was throwing a game-tying bomb, and the Bears would whip the Jets, 38-34.

Ryan was bemoaning how the Jets had lost an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth, was talking about how a good team takes advantage of these moments, seizes them, how good coaches are supposed to figure out ways to get that done …

And suddenly, from the next room, came a roar that shook old Soldier Field to its core, that stopped Ryan’s screed and turned his frown upside down.

“Well,” he said. “It sounds like something good just happened.”

A few doors over, then-GM Mike Tannenbaum and LaDainian Tomlinson were watching the end of the Redskins-Jaguars game. It was tied. If Washington’s kicker, Graham Gano — you remember that name, right Giants fans? — could make a 30-yarder, the Jets would be in the playoffs anyway.

“Come on, Graham buddy!” Tannenbaum shrieked.

“You know him?” Tomlinson asked.

“No,” Tannenbaum said. “But right now, he’s my best friend”

In a few seconds, Gano had about 70 other best friends. In many ways, it was the last great regular-season moment the Jets have enjoyed. There would be a nice playoff push a few weeks later that died in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, and that, as it turned out, was the last hurrah of the Ryan era.

There were a few nice moments in 2015, Todd Bowles’ first year — mostly an overtime win at home against their loathed rivals from New England. But in memory that game is overshadowed by what happened next, a no-show 22-17 loss in Buffalo in Week 17 that kept alive a Jets playoff drought that now stands at eight years and counting — and will almost surely be assured a ninth straight year if the Jets can’t pull an upset Sunday.

It is a task made difficult for two reasons: the Jets’ mounting injury list, which not only affects overall depth but also, presumably, Sam Darnold’s development and immediate productivity since the Jets are suddenly absent so many key offensive weapons.

And also, the Bears. They are good, they are tough, they have played a lot better than their 3-3 record and are maybe three plays away from being 6-0.

“Defensively they’re big up front, rush the passer very well from the outside, corners play the ball very well, we know they got good linebackers that can hit,” Bowles said earlier this week. “Offensively, they’re very explosive, the quarterback [Mitch Trubisky] is playing well and he can run, he adds to the rushing attack. And they have a great return game, so they’re an explosive team, very explosive team.”

The Jets won the first game the teams ever played, early in the 1974, Joe Namath enjoying one of the last great games he ever played as a Jet (257 passing yards and a touchdown, no interceptions).

Overall they’ve lost 11 of 14 times to the Bears, and four of the six games played at Soldier Field, and despite the feel-good vibe that came out of the stadium the last time they played here, it hasn’t been a terribly friendly venue for the Jets (you may recall a certain fumble by Blair Thomas on a certain Monday night in 1991 …).

Still, Chicago was the launching point for the last special Jets team, eight long years ago. Why would you root for it to go any other way eight years later?

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